Malcolm Milne is regarded as one of Australia’s greatest skiers, learning to ski at the age of 13 at Falls Creek, Victoria. With his brother Ross, they were both taught by Austrian Sigi Haberzettl, who was chief coach at Falls Creek for 17 years. They travelled at weekends for intensive training from Myrtleford, about 90 minutes drive away. Haberzettl came from the Austrian mountain resort town of Axamer Lizum, 10km from Innsbruck, and many years later helped negotiate a deal by which the AOC took over a training facility in the village. Malcolm became a member of the Australian Junior Ski Team to Japan at the age of 14 and was invited to train with the French B team by the great French coach, Honore Bonnet.
Following Ross’ tragic death while training on the ski slopes of Innsbruck for the 1964 Olympics, Milne made the 1968 Winter Olympic team to Grenoble, then aged just 19. Those games were dominated by the great French skier Jean-Claude Killy, who duplicated the 1956 triple gold alpine feat of Austria’s Tony Sailer by winning the downhill, slalom, and giant slalom. Milne raced well in the downhill to finish 24th of 86 starters, with a time 5.51 seconds behind Killy. Afterwards, the team manager, Bruce Dyson, reported: “He was beaten by skiers from only seven countries, and…was the first from the British Commonwealth. The first Norwegian was 17th, the first American 18th. This was by far the best Australian skiing result in any Games.” Milne also finished 33rd in the giant slalom and 24th in the slalom, which gave him 12th place in the overall placings.
In 1969, Milne became the first Australian to win a major international title when he won the overall points standings in the American National Alpine Combined championships. Milne later joined a French team in Europe, and during one golden season in the winter of 1971/72 became the first Australian to win a downhill race in a World Cup event, at Val D’Isere, France, then won the United States title race at Bear Valley, California; and finished third in the world championship.
Milne was a member of the Olympic team to the 1972 Sapporo Winter Games, where he was expected to do well, but suffered a cartilage injury to his left knee which threatened to cause him to withdraw. He later called his Olympic downhill race his worst ever. In fact, he recovered superbly from a near fall after making a mistake and over correcting his line. In a remarkable recovery, he dragged his arm in the snow for at least 50yds to recover his balance and in doing so lost over two seconds, which of course, cost him the chance he had of a place. But for the mishap, Milne probably would have finished in third or fourth placing. His best was 23rd in the downhill. Leading up to these Games, Milne was one of the ten skiers Avery Brundage -President of the International Olympic Committee – wanted to ban for alleged professionalism.
After Sapporo, Milne did turn professional for two years, joining a troupe formed by Killy, specialising in parallel-course head-to-head racing. He then retired, noting “Someone once said to me that for us to beat the Europeans at winter sports was like Austria tackling us at Test cricket. I reckon it’s an accurate judgement.” But his success over a number of European winters encouraged the Australian Ski Federation to find the money to send a number of young hopefuls to Europe.
In 2004, Ski & Snowboard Australia elected Milne a life member for the contribution he made to the sport by becoming the first World Cup medal winner in Australian winter sports history, and the subsequent impact his performances have had on future athletes.